The preview continues by shifting from the best team in the AFC South to the worst, the 2-14 Indianapolis Colts. The Colts were in trouble once Peyton Manning went down for the season, but nobody thought it would be as bad as it got. Jim Irsay immediately fired Jim Caldwell and hired Chuck Pagano.
The Colts struggled to find a suitable replacement for Manning, using Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and even Kerry Collins. The loss of Manning destroyed the Colts offense and Pro Bowlers Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark both had their worst seasons in receptions and touchdowns in five years.
The Colts defense did not help the offense in any way and gave up 143.9 yards per game on the ground. Their bookends on the defensive line Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney both had over eight sacks, but the other nine players around them struggled.
After a controversial offseason during which Colts owner Jim Irsay let one of the best players in franchise history walk, the Colts start the 2012 campaign with Andrew Luck as their starting quarterback. Can Luck make enough of an impact take the Colts out of the cellar and back into the playoffs?
Offense: The Colts offense last season highlighted just how important Manning's presence was on the field. People were calling for Manning to win the MVP without even playing a game. Painter, Orlovsky and Collins all struggled to pace the offense, and the running game was just as bad, if not worse than previous seasons. Donald Brown led the team in rushing with only 645 yards, and Joseph Addai disappointed once again with only 433 yards rushing.
The only receiver on the Colts who flourished was Pierre Garcon. Garcon caught 70 passes for 947 yards and six touchdowns, which led the team. Austin Collie struggled to stay healthy, and Wayne and Clark were not themselves. Now, Garcon and Clark are gone, and Luck's teammate at Stanford, Coby Fleener, joins the Colts and will start at tight end.
Defense: The Colts defense last year was just as bad as the offense. Indianapolis gave up more than 370 yards per game last season and surrendered almost 27 points per game, not a good combination with Curtis Painter as the quarterback.
The Colts' defense has undergone numerous changes, the first of which was bringing in defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Manusky switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and moved Freeney and Mathis from defensive ends to outside linebackers. Freeney and Mathis will have to adjust to rushing the passer without having their hand on the ground. This is a very risky move made by Manusky because it could greatly change the way Mathis and Freeney play. Although their size fit the label for a linebacker, they will have to adjust from performing spin moves to playing zone coverage and occasionally matching up on a tight end. Indy also won't have its top linebacker Pat Angerer, who was fourth in the NFL in tackles, because of a broken foot suffered in Week 1 of the preseason.
The Colts secondary was pitiful last season, the Colts were in the middle of the league in passing yardage allowed but recorded only eight interceptions, second-to-last in the NFL. The secondary got a big boost by acquiring Vontae Davis from Miami a few days ago. Davis has nine interceptions in only three seasons with Miami and should bring an immediate impact to a secondary that needs some turnover potential.
Prediction: The Colts offense has made as many changes as any team in the NFL. It has a mixture of players who are new to the organization and guys who have been there for several years. The biggest question is how Luck will perform as a rookie. Despite being a first-year quarterback, Luck has the talent and the intangibles to be a great player. But he certainly could throw for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first year. Reggie Wayne has more left in the tank, Austin Collie, when healthy, is a very good option, and the reunion with Fleener can only help Luck. Also, the Colts probably won't have much of a running game because Brown and Addai have failed to show any progression, and why would they now?
The defense also went through a big renovation. Freeney and Mathis are now outside linebackers, and the addition of Vontae Davis will make their secondary a bit more formidable. Losing Angerer for at least a few weeks will hurt the defense, but if the new defensive line can play well and Freeney and Mathis can get accustomed to their new positions then the Colts could have a decent defense under Manusky.
The Colts have gone through one of the biggest makeovers in the NFL. New head coach Chuck Pagano will have his hands full with a rookie quarterback and an entirely different defense to teach his team. The Colts' schedule isn't too difficult, they play only six games against teams who made the playoffs last season. Andrew Luck can play the game, and I think he will have a lot of success in his first season in the league. If Donald Brown can step it up, they could have a pretty decent offense. If Freeney and Mathis can be just as productive as linebackers, then the Colts could be one of the most improved teams of the year. In the end, I think this team will be better, but they won't shock anyone with a 5-11 record.